House Republicans Continue to Shape Budget; Vote Next Week
HHS Releases Student Health Care Plan Rules
House Takes Up Patent Reform
IN BRIEF: GI Bill Benefits Delayed by Winter Weather; Online Registration for ACE's Annual Meeting Ends Feb. 15
Wrangling over the FY 2011 budget continues to dominate the discussion in Washington. House Republicans announced early in the week that they had finalized cuts to the budget bill under consideration, but they quickly dialed back on Thursday and decided to slash further under pressure from conservative members of their caucus.
As I have noted before, Congress has not yet finalized government funding for FY 2011, despite being more than four months into the fiscal year. The government has been operating under a series of short-term spending bills called continuing resolutions (CR), with the current one set to expire March 4. Congress must finalize appropriations by that date or enact another CR to keep the government running.
House Appropriations Committee Chairman Harold Rogers (R-KY) was expected to release a bill Wednesday cutting $32 billion from current spending levels and $74 billion from the president's FY 2011 budget request. However, that plan was pulled back to give committee members time to make even deeper cuts to non-security discretionary spending. The new bill, which is to be released today, reportedly will contain $100 billion in cuts from the president's budget and is still set to hit the House floor next week. We are particularly concerned about the possibility of cuts to Pell Grants and campus-based aid programs, which are often mentioned as possible targets.
While the final result is unclear, a list of 70 proposed cuts (with a large number of science and research programs among them) was released on Wednesday and these reductions are expected to be included in the new version of the bill. After the House acts, the proposal will move to the Senate, which seems far less anxious to cut spending than the House. Also unknown is the president's willingness to accept budget cuts almost halfway through the fiscal year. In short, we still have a long way to go before we have an FY 2011 spending bill.
Next week also will bring the release of President Obama's FY 2012 budget request. Once that happens, Congress will begin working on the FY 2012 budget as it continues to wrestle with the FY 2011 budget. I will have full details next Friday on the president's proposal, which is scheduled for release on Feb. 14. The Department of Education will hold a budget briefing Monday at 12:30 p.m. EST—for those interested, it will be live streamed at www.ustream.tv/channel/education-department.
The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) on Wednesday released the text of proposed regulations that would ensure college and university health plans offer students the consumer protections created by the Affordable Care Act (ACA), the health care reform legislation signed into law last year.
The new rules are in part a response to a request we made—along with the American College Health Association and several other organizations—for guidance to help campuses navigate the changing landscape for health care and health insurance since the enactment of the ACA.
The regulations, which would go into effect Jan. 1, 2012, would define college plans as "individual health insurance coverage" with the same protections the new law gives to other individual plans, including no lifetime limits on coverage, no arbitrary rescissions of coverage and no exclusions for pre-existing conditions. (Click here for a one-page overview of the rules.) These provisions would not apply to plans negotiated before 2012, which would include all plans active during the 2011-12 academic year. Hopefully, this will give you sufficient time to bring your student health plans into compliance with the ACA.
One concern we have is that the regulations do not address how institutions that self-insure their student health plans should handle their plans under ACA. We will be communicating this concern, and perhaps others, to HHS in the coming weeks as the rules are finalized. For those of you who would like to read the regulations in full and submit comments, see today's Federal Register. Comments are being accepted for the next 60 days.
The House Judiciary Committee is picking up patent reform today with a hearing on "Crossing the Finish Line on Patent Reform—What Can and Should Be Done."
We are not sure whether they have a bill to introduce just yet as a companion to the Senate's Patent Reform Act of 2011 (S. 23), which moved to the full Senate last week. We sent a letter on Tuesday to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) expressing our full support for S. 23, which would revise the process for granting patents, reviewing the validity of patents after they are issued and handling patent infringement lawsuits. (See this very helpful summary for full details.)
For those of you who are following this issue closely, you might be interested in reviewing the administration's latest edition of its report, Strategy for American Innovation. The White House also has launched an initiative called Startup America, which is designed to promote entrepreneurship and encourage private sector investment in job-creating startups.
You should have received a letter this week from the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) informing you that severe weather at check-processing centers has delayed some February payments for students receiving GI Bill benefits. According to The Virginian-Pilot, about 55,000 students are still awaiting their money for this month. The VA says the centers have reopened and the checks will be on their way within 10 days.
We're counting down to ACE's 93rd Annual Meeting, which begins in three weeks here in Washington, DC. A day of exclusive programs has been designed especially for presidents and chancellors, beginning with a special reception on Saturday, March 5. Visit the website to view the full schedule of programming and to register. Online registration ends Feb. 15.
Molly Corbett Broad
President of ACE